I decided to leave South Georgia about December 5, and in the intervals of final preparation scanned again the plans for the voyage to winter quarters. What welcome was the Weddell Sea preparing for us? The whaling captains at South Georgia were generously ready to share with me their knowledge of the waters in which they pursued their trade, and, while confirming earlier information as to the extreme severity of the ice conditions in this sector of the Antarctic, they were able to give advice that was worth attention.
It will be convenient to state here briefly some of the considerations that weighed with me at that time and in the weeks that followed. I knew that the ice had come far north that season and, after listening to the suggestions of the whaling captains, had decided to steer to the South Sandwich Group, round Ultima Thule, and work as far to the eastward as the fifteenth meridian west longitude before pushing south. The whalers emphasized the difficulty of getting through the ice in the neighbourhood of the South Sandwich Group. They told me they had often seen the floes come right up to the group in the summer-time, and they thought the Expedition would have to push through heavy pack in order to reach the Weddell Sea. Probably the best time to get into the Weddell Sea would be the end of February or the beginning of March. The whalers had gone right round the South Sandwich Group and they were familiar with the conditions. The predictions they made induced me to take the deck-load of coal, for if we had to fight our way through to Coats’ Land we would need every ton of fuel the ship could carry.
I hoped that by first moving to the east as far as the fifteenth meridian west we would be able to go south through looser ice, pick up Coats’ Land and finally reach Vahsel Bay, where Filchner made his attempt at landing in 1912. Two considerations were occupying my mind at this juncture. I was anxious for certain reasons to winter the ‘Endurance’ in the Weddell Sea, but the difficulty of finding a safe harbour might be very great. If no safe harbour could be found, the ship must winter at South Georgia. It seemed to me hopeless now to think of making the journey across the continent in the first summer, as the season was far advanced and the ice conditions were likely to prove unfavourable. In view of the possibility of wintering the ship in the ice, we took extra clothing from the stores at the various stations in South Georgia.
The other question that was giving me anxious thought was the size of the shore party. If the ship had to go out during the winter, or if she broke away from winter quarters, it would be preferable to have only a small, carefully selected party of men ashore after the hut had been built and the stores landed. These men could proceed to lay out depots by man-haulage and make short journeys with the dogs, training them for the long early march in the following spring. The majority of the scientific men would live aboard the ship, where they could do their work under good conditions. They would be able to make short journeys if required, using the ‘Endurance’ as a base. All these plans were based on an expectation that the finding of winter quarters was likely to be difficult. If a really safe base could be established on the continent, I would adhere to the original programme of sending one party to the south; one to the west round the head of the Weddell Sea towards Graham Land, and one to the east towards Enderby Land.
We had worked out details of distances, courses, stores required, and so forth. Our sledging ration, the result of experience as well as close study, was perfect. The dogs gave promise, after training, of being able to cover fifteen to twenty miles a day with loaded sledges. The transcontinental journey, at this rate, should be completed in 120 days unless some unforeseen obstacle intervened. We longed keenly for the day when we could begin this march, the last great adventure, in the history of South Polar exploration, but a knowledge of the obstacles that lay between us and our starting-point served as a curb on impatience. Everything depended upon the landing. If we could land at Filchner’s base there was no reason why a band of experienced men should not winter there in safety. But the Weddell Sea was notoriously inhospitable and already we knew that its sternest face was turned toward us. All the conditions in the Weddell Sea are unfavourable from the navigator’s point of view. The winds are comparatively light, and consequently new ice can form even in the summer-time. The absence of strong winds has the additional effect of allowing the ice to accumulate in masses, undisturbed. Then great quantities of ice sweep along the coast from the east under the influence of the prevailing current, and fill up the bight of the Weddell Sea as they move north in a great semicircle. Some of this ice doubtless describes almost a complete circle, and is held up eventually, in bad seasons, against the South Sandwich Islands. The strong currents, pressing the ice masses against the coasts, create heavier pressure than is found in any other part of the Antarctic. This pressure must be at least as severe as the pressure experienced in the congested North Polar basin, and I am inclined to think that a comparison would be to the advantage of the Arctic. All these considerations naturally had a bearing upon our immediate problem, the penetration of the pack and the finding of a safe harbour on the continental coast.
The day of departure arrived. I gave the order to heave anchor at 8.45 a.m. on December 5, 1914, and the clanking of the windlass broke for us the last link with civilization. The morning was dull and overcast, with occasional gusts of snow and sleet, but hearts were light aboard the ‘Endurance’. The long days of preparation were over and the adventure lay ahead.
We had hoped that some steamer from the north would bring news of war and perhaps letters from home before our departure. A ship did arrive on the evening of the 4th, but she carried no letters, and nothing useful in the way of information could be gleaned from her. The captain and crew were all stoutly pro-German, and the “news” they had to give took the unsatisfying form of accounts of British and French reverses. We would have been glad to have had the latest, tidings from a friendlier source. A year and a half later we were to learn that the ‘Harpoon’, the steamer which tends the Grytviken station, had arrived with mail for us not more than two hours after the ‘Endurance’ had proceeded down the coast.
The bows of the ‘Endurance’ were turned to the south, and the good ship dipped to the south-westerly swell. Misty rain fell during the forenoon, but the weather cleared later in the day, and we had a good view of the coast of South Georgia as we moved under steam and sail to the south-east. The course was laid to carry us clear of the island and then south of South Thule, Sandwich Group. The wind freshened during the day, and all square sail was set, with the foresail reefed in order to give the look-out a clear view ahead; for we did not wish to risk contact with a “growler,” one of those treacherous fragments of ice that float with surface awash. The ship was very steady in the quarterly sea, but certainly did not look as neat and trim as she had done when leaving the shores of England four months earlier. We had filled up with coal at Grytviken, and this extra fuel was stored on deck, where it impeded movement considerably. The carpenter had built a false deck, extending from the poop-deck to the chart-room. We had also taken aboard a ton of whale-meat for the dogs. The big chunks of meat were hung up in the rigging, out of reach but not out of sight of the dogs, and as the ‘Endurance’ rolled and pitched, they-watched with wolfish eyes for a windfall.
I was greatly pleased with the dogs, which were tethered about the ship in the most comfortable positions we could find for them. They were in excellent condition, and I felt that the Expedition had the right tractive-power. They were big, sturdy animals, chosen for endurance and strength, and if they were as keen to pull our sledges as they were now to fight one another all would be well. The men in charge of the dogs were doing their work enthusiastically, and the eagerness they showed to study the natures and habits of their charges gave promise of efficient handling and good work later on.
During December 6 the ‘Endurance’ made good progress on a south-easterly course. The northerly breeze had freshened during the night and had brought up a high following sea. The weather was hazy, and we passed two bergs, several growlers, and numerous lumps of ice. Staff and crew were settling down to the routine. Bird life was plentiful, and we noticed Cape pigeons, whale-birds, terns, mollymauks, nellies, sooty and wandering albatrosses in the neighbourhood of the ship. The course was laid for the passage between Sanders Island and Candlemas Volcano. December 7 brought the first check. At six o’clock that morning the sea, which had been green in colour all the previous day, changed suddenly to a deep indigo. The ship was behaving well in a rough sea, and some members of the scientific staff were transferring to the bunkers the coal we had stowed on deck. Sanders Island and Candlemas were sighted early in the afternoon, and the ‘Endurance’ passed between them at 6 p.m. Worsley’s observations indicated that Sanders Island was, roughly, three miles east and five miles north of the charted position. Large numbers of bergs; mostly tabular in form, lay to the west of the islands, and we noticed that many of them were yellow with diatoms. One berg had large patches of red-brown soil down its sides. The presence of so many bergs was ominous, and immediately after passing between the islands we encountered stream-ice. All sail was taken in and we proceeded slowly under steam. Two hours later, fifteen miles north-east of Sanders Island, the ‘Endurance’ was confronted by a belt of heavy pack-ice, half a mile broad and extending north and south. There was clear water beyond, but the heavy south-westerly swell made the pack impenetrable in our neighbourhood. This was disconcerting. The noon latitude had been 57 degrees 26 minutes S., and I had not expected to find pack-ice nearly so far north, though the whalers had reported pack-ice right up to South Thule.
The situation became dangerous that night. We pushed into the pack in the hope of reaching open water beyond, and found ourselves after dark in a pool which was growing smaller and smaller. The ice was grinding around the ship in the heavy swell, and I watched with some anxiety for any indication of a change of wind to the east, since a breeze from that quarter would have driven us towards the land. Worsley and I were on deck all night, dodging the pack. At 3 a.m. we ran south, taking advantage of some openings that had appeared, but met heavy rafted pack-ice, evidently old; some of it had been subjected to severe pressure. Then we steamed north-west and saw open water to the north-east. I put the ‘Endurance’s’ head for the opening, and, steaming at full speed, we got clear. Then we went east in the hope of getting better ice, and five hours later, after some dodging, we rounded the pack and were able to set sail once more. This initial tussle with the pack had been exciting at times. Pieces of ice and bergs of all sizes were heaving and jostling against each other in the heavy south-westerly swell. In spite of all our care the ‘Endurance’ struck large lumps stem on, but the engines were stopped in time and no harm was done. The scene and sounds throughout the day were very fine. The swell was dashing against the sides of huge bergs and leaping right to the top of their icy cliffs. Sanders Island lay to the south, with a few rocky faces peering through the misty swirling clouds that swathed it most of the time, the booming of the sea running into ice-caverns, the swishing break of the swell on the loose pack, and the graceful bowing and undulating of the inner pack to the steeply rolling swell, which here was robbed of its break by the masses of ice to windward.
We skirted the northern edge of the pack in clear weather with a light south-westerly breeze and an overcast sky. The bergs were numerous. During the morning of December 9 an easterly breeze brought hazy weather with snow, and at 4.30 p.m. we encountered the edge of pack-ice in lat. 58 degrees 27 minutes S., long. 22 degrees 08 minutes W. It was one-year-old ice interspersed with older pack, all heavily snow-covered and lying west-south-west to east-north-east. We entered the pack at 5 p.m., but could not make progress, and cleared it again at 7.40 p.m. Then we steered east-north-east and spent the rest of the night rounding the pack. During the day we had seen adelie and ringed penguins, also several humpback and finner whales. An ice-blink to the westward indicated the presence of pack in that direction. After rounding the pack we steered S. 40 degrees E., and at noon on the 10th had reached lat. 58 degrees 28 minutes S., long. 20 degrees 28 minutes W. Observations showed the compass variation to be 1 1/2 degrees less than the chart recorded. I kept the ‘Endurance’ on the course till midnight, when we entered loose open ice about ninety miles south-east of our noon position. This ice proved to fringe the pack, and progress became slow. There was a long easterly swell with a light northerly breeze, and the weather was clear and fine. Numerous bergs lay outside the pack.
The ‘Endurance’ steamed through loose open ice till 8 a.m. on the 11th, when we entered the pack in lat. 59 degrees 46 minutes S., long. 18 degrees 22 minutes W. We could have gone farther east, but the pack extended far in that direction, and an effort to circle it might have involved a lot of northing. I did not wish to lose the benefit of the original southing. The extra miles would not have mattered to a ship with larger coal capacity than the ‘Endurance’ possessed, but we could not afford to sacrifice miles unnecessarily. The pack was loose and did not present great difficulties at this stage. The foresail was, set in order to take advantage of the northerly breeze. The ship was in contact with the ice occasionally and received some heavy blows. Once or twice she was brought up all standing against solid pieces, but no harm was done. The chief concern was to protect, the propeller and rudder. If a collision seemed to be inevitable the officer in charge would order “slow” or “half speed” with the engines, and put the helm over so as to strike floe a glancing blow. Then the helm would be put over towards the ice with the object of throwing the propeller clear of it, and the ship would forge ahead again. Worsley, Wild, and I, with three officers, kept three watches while we were working through the pack, so that we had two officers on deck all the time. The carpenter had rigged a six-foot wooden semaphore on the bridge to enable the navigating officer to give the seamen or scientists at the wheel the direction and the exact amount of helm required. This device saved time, as well as the effort of shouting. We were pushing through this loose pack all day, and the view from the crow’s-nest gave no promise of improved conditions ahead. A Weddell seal and a crab-eater seal were noticed on the floes, but we did not pause to secure fresh meat. It was important that we should make progress towards our goal as rapidly as possible, and there was reason to fear that we should have plenty of time to spare later on if the ice conditions continued to increase in severity.
On the morning of December 12 we were working through loose pack which later became thick in places. The sky was overcast and light snow was falling. I had all square sail set at 7 a.m. in order to take advantage of the northerly breeze, but it had to come in again five hours later when the wind hauled round to the west. The noon position was lat. 60 degrees 26 minutes S., long. 17 degrees 58 minutes W., and the run for the twenty-four hours had been only 33 miles. The ice was still badly congested, and we were pushing through narrow leads and occasional openings with the floes often close abeam on either side. Antarctic, snow and stormy petrels, fulmars, white-rumped terns, and adelies were around us. The quaint little penguins found the ship a cause of much apparent excitement and provided a lot of amusement aboard. One of the standing jokes was that all the adelies on the floe seemed to know Clark, and when he was at the wheel rushed along as fast as their legs could carry them, yelling out “Clark! Clark!” and apparently very indignant and perturbed that he never waited for them or even answered them.
We found several good leads to the south in the evening, and continued to work southward throughout the night and the following day. The pack extended in all directions as far as the eye could reach. The noon observation showed the run for the twenty-four hours to be 54 miles, a satisfactory result under the conditions. Wild shot a young Ross seal on the floe, and we manoeuvred the ship alongside. Hudson jumped down, bent a line on to the seal, and the pair of them were hauled up. The seal was 4 ft. 9 in. long and weighed about ninety pounds. He was a young male and proved very good eating, but when dressed and minus the blubber made little more than a square meal for our twenty-eight men, with a few scraps for our breakfast and tea. The stomach contained only amphipods about an inch long, allied to those found in the whales at Grytviken.
The conditions became harder on December 14. There was a misty haze, and occasional falls of snow. A few bergs were in sight. The pack was denser than it had been on the previous days. Older ice was intermingled with the young ice, and our progress became slower. The propeller received several blows in the early morning, but no damage was done. A platform was rigged under the jib-boom in order that Hurley might secure some kinematograph pictures of the ship breaking through the ice. The young ice did not present difficulties to the ‘Endurance’, which was able to smash a way through, but the lumps of older ice were more formidable obstacles, and conning the ship was a task requiring close attention. The most careful navigation could not prevent an occasional bump against ice too thick to be broken or pushed aside. The southerly breeze strengthened to a moderate south-westerly gale during the afternoon, and at 8 p.m. we hove to, stem against a floe, it being impossible to proceed without serious risk of damage to rudder or propeller. I was interested to notice that, although we had been steaming through the pack for three days, the north-westerly swell still held with us. It added to the difficulties of navigation in the lanes, since the ice was constantly in movement.
The ‘Endurance’ remained against the floe for the next twenty-four hours, when the gale moderated. The pack extended to the horizon in all directions and was broken by innumerable narrow lanes. Many bergs were in sight, and they appeared to be travelling through the pack in a south-westerly direction under the current influence. Probably the pack itself was moving north-east with the gale. Clark put down a net in search of specimens, and at two fathoms it was carried southwest by the current and fouled the propeller. He lost the net, two leads, and a line. Ten bergs drove to the south through the pack during the twenty-four hours. The noon position was 61 degrees 31 minutes S., long. 18 degrees 12 minutes W. The gale had moderated at 8 p.m., and we made five miles to the south before midnight and then we stopped at the end of a long lead, waiting till the weather cleared. It was during this short run that the captain, with semaphore hard-a-port, shouted to the scientist at the wheel: “Why in Paradise don’t you port!” The answer came in indignant tones: “I am blowing my nose.”
The ‘Endurance’ made some progress on the following day. Long leads of open water ran towards the south-west, and the ship smashed at full speed through occasional areas of young ice till brought up with a heavy thud against a section of older floe. Worsley was out on the jib-boom end for a few minutes while Wild was conning the ship, and he came back with a glowing account of a novel sensation. The boom was swinging high and low and from side to side, while the massive bows of the ship smashed through the ice, splitting it across, piling it mass on mass and then shouldering it aside. The air temperature was 37 degrees Fahr., pleasantly warm, and the water temperature 29 degrees Fahr. We continued to advance through fine long leads till 4 a.m. on December 17, when the ice became difficult again. Very large floes of six-months-old ice lay close together. Some of these floes presented; a square mile of unbroken surface; and among them were patches of thin ice and several floes of heavy old ice. Many bergs were in sight, and the course became devious. The ship was blocked at one point by a wedge-shaped piece of floe, but we put the ice-anchor through it, towed it astern, and proceeded through the gap. Steering under these conditions required muscle as well as nerve. There was a clatter aft during the afternoon, and Hussey, who was at the wheel, explained that “The wheel spun round and threw, me over the top of it!” The noon position was lat. 62 degrees 13 minutes S., long. 18 degrees 53 minutes W., and the run for the preceding twenty-four hours had been 32 miles in a south-westerly direction. We saw three blue whales during the day and one emperor penguin, a 58-lb. bird, which was added to the larder.
The morning of December 18 found the ‘Endurance’ proceeding amongst large floes with thin ice between them. The leads were few. There was a northerly breeze with occasional snow-flurries. We secured three crab-eater seals — two cows and a bull. The bull was a fine specimen, nearly white all over and 9 ft. 3 in. long; he weighed 600 lb. Shortly before noon further progress was barred by heavy pack, and we put an ice-anchor on the floe and banked the fires. I had been prepared for evil conditions in the Weddell Sea, but had hoped that in December and January, at any rate, the pack would be loose, even if no open water was to be found. What we were actually encountering was fairly dense pack of a very obstinate character. Pack-ice might be described as a gigantic and interminable jigsaw-puzzle devised by nature. The parts of the puzzle in loose pack have floated slightly apart and became disarranged; at numerous places they have pressed together again; as the pack gets closer the congested areas grow larger and the parts are jammed harder till finally it becomes “close pack,” when the whole of the jigsaw-puzzle becomes jammed to such an extent that with care and labour it can be traversed in every direction on foot. Where the parts do not fit closely there is, of course, open water, which freezes over, in a few hours after giving off volumes of “frost-smoke.” In obedience to renewed pressure this young ice “rafts,” so forming double thicknesses of a toffee-like consistency. Again the opposing edges of heavy floes rear up in slow and almost silent conflict, till high “hedgerows” are formed round each part of the puzzle. At the junction of several floes chaotic areas of piled-up blocks and masses of ice are formed. Sometimes 5-ft. to 6-ft. piles of evenly shaped blocks of ice are seen so neatly laid that it seems impossible for them to be Nature’s work. Again, a winding canyon may be traversed between icy walls 6 ft. to 10 ft. high, or a dome may be formed that under renewed pressure bursts upward like a volcano. All the winter the drifting pack changes — grows by freezing, thickens by rafting, and corrugates by pressure. If, finally, in its drift it impinges on a coast, such as the western shore of the Weddell Sea, terrific pressure is set up and an inferno of ice-blocks, ridges, and hedgerows results, extending possibly for 150 or 200 miles off shore. Sections of pressure ice may drift away subsequently and become embedded in new ice.
I have given this brief explanation here in order that the reader may understand the nature of the ice through which we pushed our way for many hundreds of miles. Another point that may require to be explained was the delay caused by wind while we were in the pack. When a strong breeze or moderate gale was blowing the ship could not safely work through any except young ice, up to about two feet in thickness. As ice of that nature never extended for more than a mile or so, it followed that in a gale in the pack we had always to lie to. The ship was 3 ft. 3 in. down by the stern, and while this saved the propeller and rudder a good deal, it made the Endurance practically unmanageable in close pack when the wind attained a force of six miles an hour from ahead, since the air currents had such a big surface forward to act upon. The pressure of wind on bows and the yards of the foremast would cause the bows to fall away, and in these conditions the ship could not be steered into the narrow lanes and leads through which we had to thread our way. The falling away of the bows, moreover, would tend to bring the stern against the ice, compelling us to stop the engines in order to save the propeller. Then the ship would become unmanageable and drift away, with the possibility of getting excessive sternway on her and so damaging rudder or propeller, the Achilles heel of a ship in pack-ice.
While we were waiting for the weather to moderate and the ice to open, I had the Lucas sounding-machine rigged over the rudder-trunk and found the depth to be 2810 fathoms. The bottom sample was lost owing to the line parting 60 fathoms from the end. During the afternoon three adelie penguins approached the ship across the floe while Hussey was discoursing sweet music on the banjo. The solemn-looking little birds appeared to appreciate “It’s a Long Way to Tipperary,” but they fled in horror when Hussey treated them to a little of the music that comes from Scotland. The shouts of laughter from the ship added to their dismay, and they made off as fast as their short legs would carry them. The pack opened slightly at 6.15 p.m., and we proceeded through lanes for three hours before being forced to anchor to a floe for the night. We fired a Hjort mark harpoon, No. 171, into a blue whale on this day. The conditions did not improve during December 19. A fresh to strong northerly breeze brought haze and snow, and after proceeding for two hours the ‘Endurance’ was stopped again by heavy floes. It was impossible to manoeuvre the ship in the ice owing to the strong wind, which kept the floes in movement and caused lanes to open and close with dangerous rapidity. The noon observation showed that we had made six miles to the south-east in the previous twenty-four hours. All hands were engaged during the day in rubbing shoots off our potatoes, which were found to be sprouting freely. We remained moored to a floe over the following day, the wind not having moderated; indeed, it freshened to a gale in the afternoon, and the members of the staff and crew took advantage of the pause to enjoy a vigorously contested game of football on the level surface of the floe alongside the ship. Twelve bergs were in sight at this time. The noon position was lat. 62 degrees 42 minutes S., long. 17 degrees 54 minutes W., showing that we had drifted about six miles in a north-easterly direction.
Monday, December 21, was beautifully fine, with a gentle west-north-westerly breeze. We made a start at 3 a.m. and proceeded through the pack in a south-westerly direction. At noon we had gained seven miles almost due east, the northerly drift of the pack having continued while the ship was apparently moving to the south. Petrels of several species, penguins, and seals were plentiful, and we saw four small blue whales. At noon we entered a long lead to the southward and passed around and between nine splendid bergs. One mighty specimen was shaped like the Rock of Gibraltar but with steeper cliffs, and another had a natural dock that would have contained the Aquitania. A spur of ice closed the entrance to the huge blue pool. Hurley brought out his kinematograph-camera, in order to make a record of these bergs. Fine long leads running east and south-east among bergs were found during the afternoon, but at midnight the ship was stopped by small, heavy ice-floes, tightly packed against an unbroken plain of ice. The outlook from the mast-head was not encouraging. The big floe was at least 15 miles long and 10 miles wide. The edge could not be seen at the widest part, and the area of the floe must have been not less than 150 square miles. It appeared to be formed of year-old ice, not very thick and with very few hummocks or ridges in it. We thought it must have been formed at sea in very calm weather and drifted up from the south-east. I had never seen such a large area of unbroken ice in the Ross Sea.
We waited with banked fires for the strong easterly breeze to moderate or the pack to open. At 6.30 p.m. on December 22 some lanes opened and we were able to move towards the south again. The following morning found us working slowly through the pack, and the noon observation gave us a gain of 19 miles S. 41 degrees W. for the seventeen and a half hours under steam. Many year-old adelies, three crab-eaters, six sea-leopards, one Weddell and two blue whales were seen. The air temperature, which had been down to 25 degrees Fahr. on December 21, had risen to 34 degrees Fahr. While we were working along leads to the southward in the afternoon, we counted fifteen bergs. Three of these were table-topped, and one was about 70 ft high and 5 miles long. Evidently it had come from a barrier-edge. The ice became heavier but slightly more open, and we had a calm night with fine long leads of open water. The water was so still that new ice was forming on the leads. We had a run of 70 miles to our credit at noon on December 24, the position being lat. 64 degrees 32 minutes S., long. 17 degrees 17 degrees W. All the dogs except eight had been named. I do not know who had been responsible for some of the names, which seemed to represent a variety of tastes. They were as follows Rugby, Upton Bristol, Millhill, Songster, Sandy, Mack, Mercury, Wolf, Amundsen, Hercules, Hackenschmidt, Samson, Sammy, Skipper, Caruso, Sub, Ulysses, Spotty, Bosun, Slobbers, Sadie, Sue, Sally, Jasper, Tim, Sweep, Martin, Splitlip, Luke, Saint, Satan, Chips, Stumps, Snapper, Painful, Bob, Snowball, Jerry, Judge, Sooty, Rufus, Sidelights, Simeon, Swanker, Chirgwin, Steamer, Peter, Fluffy, Steward, Slippery, Elliott, Roy, Noel, Shakespeare, Jamie, Bummer, Smuts, Lupoid, Spider, and Sailor. Some of the names, it will be noticed, had a descriptive flavour.
Heavy floes held up the ship from midnight till 6 a.m. on December 25, Christmas Day. Then they opened a little and we made progress till 11.30 a.m., when the leads closed again. We had encountered good leads and workable ice during the early part of the night, and the noon observation showed that our run for the twenty-four hours was the best since we entered the pack a fortnight earlier. We had made 71 miles S. 4 degrees W. The ice held us up till the evening, and then we were able to follow some leads for a couple of hours before the tightly packed floes and the increasing wind compelled a stop. The celebration of Christmas was not forgotten. Grog was served at midnight to all on deck. There was grog again at breakfast, for the benefit of those who had been in their bunks at midnight. Lees had decorated the wardroom with flags and had a little Christmas present for each of us. Some of us had presents from home to open. Later there was a really splendid dinner, consisting of turtle soup, whitebait, jugged hare, Christmas pudding, mince-pies, dates, figs and crystallized fruits, with rum and stout as drinks. In the evening everybody joined in a “sing-song.” Hussey had made a one-stringed violin, on which, in the words of Worsley, he “discoursed quite painlessly.” The wind was increasing to a moderate south-easterly gale and no advance could be made; so we were able to settle down to the enjoyments of the evening.
The weather was still bad on December 26 and 27, and the ‘Endurance’ remained anchored to a floe. The noon position on the 26th was lat. 65 degrees 43 minutes S., long. 17 degrees 36 minutes W. We made another sounding on this day with the Lucas machine and found bottom at 2819 fathoms. The specimen brought up was a terrigenous blue mud (glacial deposit) with some radiolaria. Every one took turns at the work of heaving in, two men working together in ten-minute spells.
Sunday, December 27, was a quiet day aboard. The southerly gale was blowing the snow in clouds off the floe and the temperature had fallen to 23 degrees Fahr. The dogs were having an uncomfortable time in their deck quarters. The wind had moderated by the following morning, but it was squally with snow-flurries, and I did not order a start till 11 p.m. The pack was still close, but the ice was softer and more easily broken. During the pause the carpenter had rigged a small stage over the stern. A man was stationed there to watch the propeller and prevent it striking heavy ice, and the arrangement proved very valuable. It saved the rudder as well as the propeller from many blows.
The high winds that had prevailed for four and a half days gave way to a gentle southerly breeze in the evening of December 29. Owing to the drift we were actually eleven miles farther north than we had been on December 25. But we made fairly good progress on the 30th in fine, clear weather. The ship followed a long lead to the south-east during the afternoon and evening, and at 11 p.m. we crossed the Antarctic Circle. An examination of the horizon disclosed considerable breaks in the vast circle of pack-ice, interspersed with bergs of different sizes. Leads could be traced in various directions, but I looked in vain for an indication of open water. The sun did not set that night, and as it was concealed behind a bank of clouds we had a glow of crimson and gold to the southward, with delicate pale green reflections in the water of the lanes to the south-east.
The ship had a serious encounter with the ice on the morning of December 31. We were stopped first by floes closing around us, and then about noon the Endurance got jammed between two floes heading east-north-east. The pressure heeled the ship over six degrees while we were getting an ice-anchor on to the floe in order to heave astern and thus assist the engines, which were running at full speed. The effort was successful. Immediately afterwards, at the spot where the Endurance had been held, slabs of ice 50 ft. by 15 ft. and 4 ft. thick were forced ten or twelve feet up on the lee floe at an angle of 45 degrees. The pressure was severe, and we were not sorry to have the ship out of its reach. The noon position was lat. 66 degrees 47 minutes S., long. 15 degrees 52 minutes W., and the run for the preceding twenty-four hours was 51 miles S. 29 minutes E.
“Since noon the character of the pack has improved,” wrote Worsley on this day. “Though the leads are short, the floes are rotten and easily broken through if a good place is selected with care and judgment. In many cases we find large sheets of young ice through which the ship cuts for a mile or two miles at a stretch. I have been conning and working the ship from the crow’s-nest and find it much the best place, as from there one can see ahead and work out the course beforehand, and can also guard the rudder and propeller, the most vulnerable pars of a ship in the ice. At midnight, as I was sitting in the ‘tub’ I heard a clamorous noise down on the deck, with ringing of bells, and realized that it was the New Year.” Worsley came down from his lofty seat and met Wild, Hudson, and myself on the bridge, where we shook hands and wished one another a happy and successful New Year. Since entering the pack on December 11 we had come 480 miles, through loose and close pack-ice. We had pushed and fought the little ship through, and she had stood the test well, though the propeller had received some shrewd blows against hard ice and the vessel had been driven against the floe until she had fairly mounted up on it and slid back rolling heavily from side to side. The rolling had been more frequently caused by the operation of cracking through thickish young ice, where the crack had taken a sinuous course. The ship, in attempting to follow it, struck first one bilge and then the other, causing her to roll six or seven degrees. Our advance through the pack had been in a S.10 degrees E. direction, and I estimated that the total steaming distance had exceeded 700 miles. The first 100 miles had been through loose pack, but the greatest hindrances had been three moderate south-westerly gales, two lasting for three days each and one for four and a half days. The last 250 miles had been through close pack alternating with fine long, leads and stretches of open water.
During the weeks we spent manoeuvring to the south through the tortuous mazes of the pack it was necessary often to split floes by driving the ship against them. This form of attack was effective against ice up to three feet in thickness, and the process is interesting enough to be worth describing briefly. When the way was barred by a floe of moderate thickness we would drive the ship at half speed against it, stopping the engines just before the impact. At the first blow the ‘Endurance’ would cut a V-shaped nick in the face of the floe, the slope her cutwater often causing her bows to rise till nearly clear of the water, when she would slide backwards, rolling slightly. Watching carefully that loose lumps of ice did not damage the propeller, we would reverse the engines and back the ship off 200 to 300 yds. She would then be driven full speed into the V, taking care to hit the centre accurately. The operation would be repeated until a short dock was cut, into which the ship, acting as a large wedge, was driven. At about the fourth attempt, if it was to succeed at all, the floe would yield. A black, sinuous line, as though pen-drawn on white paper, would appear ahead, broadening as the eye traced it back to the ship. Presently it would be broad enough to receive her, and we would forge ahead. Under the bows and alongside, great slabs of ice were being turned over and slid back on the floe, or driven down and under the ice or ship. In thus way the ‘Endurance’ would split a 2-ft. to 3-ft. floe a square mile in extent. Occasionally the floe, although cracked across, would be so held by other floes that it would refuse to open wide, and so gradually would bring the ship to a standstill. We would then go astern for some distance and again drive her full speed into the crack, till finally the floe would yield to the repeated onslaughts.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00